A Night Hike

2010-06-26 22:06:39.000 – Mike Finnegan,  IT Observer

Tonight is one of those nights where it is nice to be indoors on the summit. It is rainy, foggy, and dark. The winds (mph) and the temperature (F) are both in the mid 40 range. This is quite a contrast from last night when I walked outside to a beautiful full moon and winds hardly over 10 mph. Although it was a bit late, I knew the weather wouldn’t hold for another night, so there was no sense in missing a chance for a short jaunt. Becca and I grabbed some small packs and headed out, first encountering a couple kids from Connecticut who had just reached the summit. Lucky for them, it was a nice night for they were quite unprepared had anything gone awry. With only sneakers, shorts and a single bottle of water between them, they had come up Lion’s Head, but strayed, as best as I can tell, onto the Alpine Garden trail, then headed up the summit cone somewhere near the east snowfields. They saw us and asked if there was a dog on the summit, but we assured them the animal they saw was probably just Marty, our cat, who also enjoys night hikes of his own. When I asked about their intended route of descent, they responded with the Tuckerman Ravine trail. This sent up a red flag as the Tuckerman Ravine trail is closed from the top of the ravine down through the bowl due to hazardous conditions such as snow bridges and crevasses. As they had obviously not done their homework before coming on a lengthy night hike, Becca and I told them we would hike down with them to the Lion’s Head trail junction. They were quite appreciative of this and we had a nice hike with good conversation down the hill a piece.

Finally reaching the trail junction, I showed them the line of cairns to follow and we parted ways. Well, I guess it would be more accurate to say that they parted us since we really didn’t move anywhere for the next good while. We had turned to decide where to go next, but looking up at the night sky and noticing how dynamic it was behaving, we decided the best place to go was nowhere. We found a nice, comfy rock and sat down, looking over Tucks towards Boott Spur and across the Bigelow Lawn to Monroe. What first struck me was the contrast of Boott Spur ridge to the sky above. The ridge was completely dark and I was unable to discern any features on it while the sky directly above it was lit up by crepuscular rays of soft, blue moonlight being cast through the clouds above. As beautiful as it looked, it was short lived, as all views were to be this night. The clouds moved quickly across the sky and in doing so would cause the moon to go away and hide for a while. Sometimes the clouds were thin enough to allow moonlight to shine through and create interesting optical effects such as colorful, muted coronas. At one point, the moon decided to come out of hiding and jump right behind a friendly cumulus cloud. The interaction of these two was such that the perimeter of the cloud was immediately colored a vibrant redish orange. It was as if I was following the quick stroke of a painter’s brush around the outer edge of the cloud. As soon as I had seen it, it was gone, as the cloud moved more directly in front of the moon.

As the night wore on, we decided it would be a good idea to mosey back up to home. Even then we were in for a treat. We hiked without headlamps, our eyes having had plenty of time to adjust to the night. Half way up the summit cone we turned to see fog encroaching across the Bigelow Lawn. This thin cloud was lit up by the moon in a wonderful fashion and allowed us to see the dynamic, turbulent nature of it. The light grew dimmer and brighter as the cloud changed and we sat down once again. It was amazing how much the fog changed as we sat a mere 30 feet above it. At times it obscured everything below us, then it would suddenly clear letting us see the mountain ranges beyond the Boott Spur ridge. It may then only decide to creep over half way before dissipating. Looking back up towards the summit, we could see the fog beginning to envelop us from that direction too. Somehow we were located in a little dry pocket of air with clouds shifting and changing all around us, meanwhile playing hide-and-go-seek with the moon and its delicate light. Before long we could smell the clean, moist air of the fog as it finally decided to surround us as well.

We turned to complete our hike up to the summit and could see the light from the tower burning its way through the thin fog, beckoning us home to our soft bunk beds and all important pillows. A few more steps through a world of uniform, grey fog and decreasingly featured rocks led us to the Auto Road and then to the summit. A good teeth-brushing ended a fine night full of rapidly changing beauty. I’m just glad I was able to simply enjoy it and didn’t have to code all of what I saw!


Mike Finnegan,  IT Observer

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